Delicate Runs for Robert Dold and Jim MathesonPosted on June 18, 2012
From the New York Times
Delicate Runs for Robert Dold and Jim Matheson
GRAYSLAKE, Ill. — He had to know it would be unpleasant, interrupting eight unsmiling men of a certain age who were polishing off their morning coffee. But Representative Robert Dold, his face locked in a smile so bright it could be studied by astronomers, moved in.
“I’m rated by most organizations as the most independent member of the Congress,” Mr. Dold, a Republican freshman, told the group of retirees, many of whom had announced themselves as Democrats, and union-affiliated to boot. One or two smiled politely. A few stared at their uneaten pancakes.
“Have you signed the Grover Norquist pledge?” asked Dan Groth, 74, referring to a promise not to raise taxes under any circumstances. “I did,” Mr. Dold conceded, and he quickly went on to tick off the bipartisan budget measures he had also supported, as Mr. Groth shook his head.
“If you do get in, I’ll be watching what you do,” Mr. Groth said. “Good luck to you.”
Mr. Dold will need it. With his Congressional district redrawn into the most Democratic one currently held by a Republican — President Obama in 2008 won 63 percent of the votes in what is now the 10th District — he is taking pains to point out that he is among the most moderate members of his reliably conservative party.
He sponsored recent legislation to protect Planned Parenthood from legislative assaults, voted for a failed budget plan that would have increased revenues and stood against his party on its House transportation bill.
He is one of a handful of Republican lawmakers who refer to the health care law by its given name — the Affordable Care Act — rather than by the pejorative name Obamacare, and he uses the word “independent” rather than “Republican” to describe his politics on the campaign trail. “I believe what people are looking for is for us to work together,” he says.
About 1,400 miles away, Mr. Dold’s political doppelgänger, Representative Jim Matheson of Utah, is running in the most Republican district held by a Democrat, and he is counting on his home state credentials to transcend party affiliation.
“I’m what people are looking for in Utah,” Mr. Matheson said. “They know I am six-generation, with deep roots in this state. Jim Matheson puts Utah first, and that’s the politics I was raised on.”
In many ways, both men represent what Americans say they want more of — compromisers willing to buck their party in the name of constituent interests and American salvation — and as such are tempting failure.
Yet while Mr. Dold and Mr. Matheson are, mathematically, the most endangered incumbents in America, in neither case is that analysis quite true.
Mr. Matheson, whose father served as governor of Utah, is a well-liked politician who is long used to enticing Republicans to vote for him, as Republican officials — who have played Wile E. Coyote to Mr. Matheson’s Road Runner for six terms — somewhat sulkily concede.
Mr. Dold, as Democrats understand with equal consternation, is a deep-pocketed rival whose relentless cheer and willingness to press his case aggressively with skeptics may help him persuade voters disenchanted with the dismal state of the Illinois economy.
But that does not mean their situations are not daunting, particularly in terms of the opponents the men drew this year. Mr. Dold is facing Brad Schneider, the very sort of suburban Jewish voter who has supported Republicans in the past; indeed, Mr. Schneider gave money to Senator Mark Steven Kirk, a Republican, when Mr. Kirk was in the House.
Mr. Matheson is being challenged by Mia Love, the mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, who, if successful, would be the first black female Republican to serve in the House.
Then there is the top of the ticket. “Dold is running in Illinois with President Obama at the top of the ballot,” said Nathan L. Gonzales, deputy editor of The Rothenberg Political Report. “Matheson is running in Utah with Mitt Romney at the top of the ballot. Those will be very hostile situations for them.”
Mr. Schneider, interviewed at a deli in Northbrook, said he intended to make it clear that however bipartisan Mr. Dold had been, his voting record was still largely in step with his party’s.
“Every single time that they’ve needed him, he’s voted with them,” he said, referring to Republican leaders in the House. He added, “Bill after bill he has aligned with the Tea Party, and the Tea Party is not the agenda of the 10th District.”
Mr. Matheson has a similar tack, saying that Ms. Love is more in step with House Republicans than with independent-minded Utah voters. “She wants to eliminate Social Security and get rid of Medicaid,” he said. “Those are positions that are just out there.”
She has her counterpunch ready. “Jim Matheson says that he puts Utah first,” Ms. Love said in an e-mail. “But he voted against Utah and for Obamacare. He voted against Utah and for the stimulus. He has stopped voting for Utah’s conservative principles and supports President Obama’s policies 75 percent of the time in Congress.”
Then there is the money disparity. Mr. Dold has far more cash, because unlike Mr. Schneider, he did not have a divisive primary to contend with. As of March 31, Mr. Dold had raised $2,189,130; Mr. Schneider had raised $1,035,443.
While the Democrat may well catch up soon, Mr. Dold is using his money to spread his name around the new district. Last week, his team commandeered a bus, similar to the one used by Senator John McCain of Arizona in his presidential runs, to roll around his district.
He stopped at coffee shops, his bus blaring music in the parking lot, as a dozen young volunteers, goofy and excitable, tumbled out to hand out literature. Mr. Dold talked Medicare, deficits, women’s health. Mr. Dold, who runs the family pest control business, will also talk bedbugs. (Solution: Place your luggage in hotel bathtubs.)
In Utah, Mr. Matheson has raised $1,205,262 to Ms. Love’s $119,917. But she will certainly have help. The independent expenditure arm of the National Republican Congressional Committee has announced that it is spending nearly $1 million in the Salt Lake City market to aid her.
Mr. Matheson seems undaunted, believing that the middle road can prevail. “If the left and right are both mad at you,” he said, “you’re probably doing the right thing.”